Zelda checked through the desk drawers once more, tossing a tissue into the wastebasket, and slipping her diary into her handbag. She shuffled the papers in the in-tray and studiously avoided meeting the eyes watching her, conscious all the while of the atmosphere heavy with questions.
At last Mr. George came from his office, followed by his secretary.
“Come along, Miss Masters.” He handed her an envelope, leading the way from the big workroom.
As they closed the door behind them there was a whoosh of exhaled breath, a clamor of questions directed at the secretary. She held up both hands in protest.
“All I can tell you is that Miss Masters has left. I know nothing of her reason or the circumstances, only that she will not be coming back.”
There was a stunned silence. Zelda was the senior in charge of this group. While not universally liked, she was respected. Their eyes questioned before they asked, “Who will take her place?”
The secretary answered, “Mr. George will make that decision and advise you in due course. For now, just carry on as usual.” She left the room.
The women returned to the tasks that had been interrupted when Mr. George called for Zelda to his office. He was quite obviously upset, and this was an unusual and unexpected break in the office routine. One or two of the women kept a surreptitious watch, and in the absolute quiet you might have expected to hear a word from behind the closed door. But there was no sound.
Then Zelda returned to her desk, avoiding their eyes, not to work but to sort through the drawers and wait for Mr. George.
It was late when Mr. George returned, hurrying straight through to his office. Their eyes followed him, sought those around them. Two women shook their heads, others looked away, but Jodie pushed her chair back.
“This is ridiculous. What are we to do with our test results? None of us has the key to the strong room. What are we supposed to do?”
She strode across to Mr. George’s office door, knocked loudly, and entered at his invitation. Shortly afterwards Mr. George ushered her out, calling for the attention of all the women in the room.
“You are all no doubt aware that Miss Masters has left the company. There has been some discrepancy in the test results for which she has been unable to offer an explanation, or to suggest where that discrepancy might have originated, preferring to terminate her position rather than to undertake a period of surveillance in order to determine who might be at fault.”
He looked around searchingly. At his side Jodie studied the floor. She would have to be very careful. But she was the most senior staff member, so she was not afraid to ask, ‘Mr. George, who is to take Miss Masters place?”
He did not glance at her. “For now we will not be replacing Miss Masters. You will all report, individually, directly to me.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “In ten minutes time I will open the strong-room. Beginning with Miss Blake, you will each bring to me what has to be stored. I want to know what you are working on, and you will bring a quick resume of today’s results. I have something more to discuss with you before you finish this afternoon. Get your tests ready to be packed away.”
There was a shuffle of activity while the various machines and computers were closed down, resumes noted, and tests packed for storage.
Now Mr. George turned from locking the strong-room door to look at the seven women herded behind Jodie, self-appointed spokeswoman.
“Well, Mr. George, we are waiting.”
“Well, ladies,” (What was the portent of his considered look at Jodie?) “As you are aware, we have today lost a valued member of this team. The tests we are making are nearing a definitive period; the loss of Miss Masters will disrupt the process while we sort out the discrepancies. There is also a matter of outgoing information, which will require enhanced security. For the foreseeable future each of you will be searched as you leave the office, and tomorrow you will be issued with security tags, which you will wear continually while you are on the premises. That will be all.”
To Jodie’s loud protest he repeated, “That will be all. Goodnight, ladies.”
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